ASIF – Review of The Alaska State Improv Festival

The Del Close Marathon. The Chicago Improv Festival. The Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival. The New York Improv Festival. The Boston Comedy Arts Festival.
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Chances are very likely that you’ve heard of these festivals, and probably attended at least two of them. I’m sure that you were exposed to an insane amount of improv troupes from around North America, and possibly Europe, and were blown away by the level of talent and variety featured at each of these festivals. I mean, how could you not be? There’s so much to see and experience. But here’s the thing about some of these mega-festivals: they’re so big and so intense that it becomes difficult to establish any sense of community amongst the improvisers that the typical performer’s e
xperience is to simply show up, get your performer’s pass, see a few shows, perform in your assigned time slot, and maybe see/do something in that city before it’s time to go home the next day.
Plus, one of the evils perpetuated in these types of mega-festivals is the illusion of status. Sure, some people/teams have achieved various levels of recognition be it through television, film, writing, talk shows, magazines, YouTube, or what-have-you, but there’s no opportunity to humanize them in any real way that matters because of the sheer amount of people attending these festivals. Sure, you might be able to go back to North Carolina and tell all of your friends that you got to tal13187866_10157629804150206_1747861823_nk with Jack McBrayer for five minutes, or that Amy Pohler accidentally spilled a drink on you in the Green Room. But where’s the humanity in that? Where’s the real life connection with another human being that matters? The answer is a simple one: The Alaska State Improv Festival!
Here’s one of the things that I love most about ASIF: Eric Caldwell, the festival producer, has been to so many festivals over the years that he knows exactly what to offer in terms of organization, variety, and community. Let me break it down for you.
Organization:
Once accepted to perform in the festival, Eric automatically adds you to the ASIF Facebook group where you receive updates and alerts in real time. I can’t stress enough how fantastic this is because it accomplishes a few things right off the bat: the ability to connect with other performers (both past and present), immediate and direct contact with the festival producer (what other festival can you say that about???), and pertinent information regarding the festival itself as questions arise.
Before the festival has even started, accommodations, rides to and from the airport, workshops, sight seeing tours, after parties, discounted performer “eats and drinks” hotspots, and other individual points of interest have all been worked out well in advance that you genuinely feel taken care of. This isn’t one of those festivals where you hope you are able to find a place to stay within budget that is within an Über ride of the venue. Nope. It’s all been taken care of for you!
13187872_10157629804100206_776965086_nAND on the back of your performer’s pass there is a schedule of all of the shows for the weekend so you can plan accordingly. Quite thoughtful.
And AND…for anyone performing in the festival, Eric has provided a webpage on the ASIF site specifically for improvisers providing information about all sorts of local grocery stores, restaurants, points of interest, workshop schedules, performance schedules, directions, phone numbers, maps, etc. It’s an amazing resource!
Variety:
There is so much about ASIF that I find outstanding that it becomes challenging where to start first. Let’s begin with the fact that you’re in Alaska’s capital performing improvised comedy! The landscapes are breathtaking, and are some of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever seen (and I literally travel the world for a living)!
Then there’s the incredible talent that Eric is able to bring in from all over: Susan Messing, Amber Nash, Parallelogramophonograph, Pinque Pony, Scared Scriptless, Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger, Nick Armstrong & Bill Binder, Pawn Takes Queen, and 1 Deep just to name a few off the top of my head. (There’s so many more that are going unmentioned that have absolutely blown me away! Seriously, everyone is just so, so talented!)
And that’s what is so great about this festival: A) the range of performances that you’d rarely get the opportunity to see again, and B) that you actually get to know the people behind the ensemble. What a rare blessing it is to actually have time to sit down to lunch with Susan Messing and talk about life! Which leads me into my last point about ASIF…
Community:
We, as improvisers, know the importance of community. It’s what strengthens us and brings us together both on stage and off. It’s what allows us to brainstorm new ideas and collaborate on projects. If it weren’t for these basic ideals there wouldn’t even be improvised comedy as we know it. We’d be fighting against each other constantly in the latest version of “The ME Show.” So why do we naturally gravitate towards perpetuating this idea that “my way is better”, or “I was taught the real way of improvising”? It’s silly and its destructive. But thankfully ASIF breaks those barriers down by creating a lot of community-building activities in which we get to really spend time together and appreciate other’s way of operation.
Exhibit A: The Whale Watching Boat Tour
When are you ever going to get this opportunity again in your life?! It’s incredible, it’s amazing, and it’s 100% worth it! I mean, come on?! It’s a boat full of rowdy improvisers! How could you not?! So much fun!
Exhibit B: The Mixer Jams
You know what’s even more fun than performing with your team? Performing with a group of extremely talented improvisers from all over everywhere in a completely bonkers show where literally anything can happen! So much fun!
Exhibit C: The Afterparties
Each night after the last run of shows, Eric has made arrangements for everyone to gather together at some of the local bars, restaurants, and local Juneau hotspots just for the sake of hanging out and getting to know each other better. Seriously, what mega-festival does that? Ok, ok…the Del Close Marathon does that. But it’s not open to all performers, AND it’s not an environment conducive to connecting with performers that you’ve never met before. ASIF is the very definition of bringing people together to celebrate this most amazing art form that we all love more than life. So much fun!
Exhibit D: Workshops
I’ve had the pleasure of learning from some of the improv “greats” in my time, and the workshops offered during ASIF are no exception. These master artists (and I refer to them as such) have taught me more about improv, the love of the art form, the creative nature of performing, and small technical approaches that I can apply in my own way than any other workshop I’ve ever taken in the past.
Plus, you’re learning/honing your craft amongst a mixed group of your peers, of whom you may never get the opportunity to perform with ever again. I’ve made so many special bonds with many of Juneau’s local improvisers that will stay with me forever! And I’m genuine in saying that I love these people. I love the connection that we created together. I love the pure joy of discovering things together while being directed and steered towards positivity, emotion, story, and humanity. These are some of my most cherished memories only available to me through ASIF’s magical ability to bring people together.
Special shout outs to Susan Messing, Parallelogramophonograph, and Rich Baker. So much fun!
The long and the short of it is that attending ASIF is like summer camp for adults. You make new friends, you experience new highs, you get to see some of the best performers in the world at the height of their game, and you get to experience Juneau, Alaska in a way that you truly will never be able to experience outside of the festival. It’s magical. It’s personal. It’s beautiful.
The Alaska State Improv Festival – the best festival I’ve ever attended! There, I said it.
Mike Brown
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Review of the Improvamonium in Rochester, NY

We reached out to our community to get some feedback on festivals. Here is a review of Improvamonium in Rochester, NY by attendee Ron Williams:

This festival was awesome! First, it was free to register. All you had to do was find a way to get to RIT. They put you on the poster for the event, so it makes your team feel super official. After arriving and finding the building (it started to snow on the way up), we were very happy to get 26 minutes to perform a set. A lot of the talent was local, and we were the only team from NYC. The college crowds are very receptive, and it was easily one of the best shows we’ve ever done.

Where to Stay: There is a hotel right next to RIT.

Where to eat: Plenty of bars right next to campus with burgers.

Overall, I’d do it again if the rest of my team wanted to. It was well run and the auditorium was huge (had to be over 200 seats).

 

10 Years of Funny

A review of the San Francisco Improv Festival

I had the honor of being a part of the 10th annual San Francisco Improv Festival this September with my team Glassworks. This festival was huge! Well, compared to most festivals that is. The SFIF hosted over thirty teams from across the country, featuring performers like Adsit & Eveleth, Razowsky & Hamilton, Susan Messing, Armando Diaz and more. Plus workshops! And it all happened over the span of two weeks. Yep, two weekends jam packed with top-notch performers guaranteed to make you feel some sort of way (and hopefully a bit of laughter).

The festival made its home at the Eureka Theater in the heart of San Francisco. It is an excellent theater with a capacity of over 200 people. All of the seats are fixed in place, lined with red velvet. The stage is pretty large, allowing scenes to grow with the environment whether it is a dance studio, farmstead, or food court. Though I must mention that a larger space calls for an intense focus on projection from the performers. Soft-spoken scenes were often too easy for the audience to miss.

Check out this rad poster design! Now that’s some smart advertising right there. An attractive poster is always a plus at festivals.
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Our team received several preparatory emails leading up to the festival, including individual board representatives to answer any and all of our questions beforehand. The fest made sure to tackle technical details a month ahead of time, which is extremely comforting for both the performers and the folks running the festival. You don’t want to be scrambling to make everything work on the night of the show. Kudos to you all at SFIF! It was our responsibility to figure out the rest of the details once we arrived in the city. Things like finding the theater, figuring out if there was anything we needed as a performer (e.g. badges, wristbands) and finding a place to sleep. I’m happy to say that we were able to complete all of these tasks on our own.

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I was only there for a few nights during the second week of the festival and am sorry to say that I did not have much of a chance to meet other performers from the festival, but did have a chance to meet two of the producers, Jamie Wright and Chris Hayes. Both of them were incredibly friendly and had open arms when we needed help. The entire SFIF staff was always ecstatic, willing to help in any way they could.

Guys, the bay area is absolutely beautiful! During the day we were able to swim in the Pacific Ocean! I’m from Wisconsin, so that’s pretty special. We explored the city, ranging everywhere from the cliffs on the western shores to Haight & Ashbury to the cities surrounding the bay. Parks dotted the landscape, trees grew high into the sky and the water was clean. There’s definitely a reason that improv is deeply rooted in San Francisco. The 60’s brought The Committee and now the city has improv theaters and training grounds like Leela, EndGames, BATS, and Un-Scripted Theater.

Overall I really enjoyed my time in San Francisco! The performer wristband granted me access to EVERY SHOW, the variety of talent was incredible to watch, and the city is truly special. Do yourself a favor and check out this festival when it comes back for its 11th year! Also be sure to schedule in plenty of time to explore the area. You won’t regret it.


Elliot currently resides in Eau Claire, performing with Glassworks and helps run the festival there. He also used to operate an underground venue called “The Playhouse” in Eau Claire, running shows nearly every weekend with both musicians and improv.

The Orange County Improv Festival Soars into its 2nd Year

This last weekend I had the opportunity to perform and attend the 2nd Annual Orange County Improv Festival in Fullerton, CA put on by Spectacles Improv Engine. Their headliners this year where Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger, King Ten, Dr. God out of iO West and Mister Town City out of UCBLA.

The festival was great, the Orange County improv scene is building a community still, but it’s even more than it was last year. Thanks to the hard work of the Spectacles Improv Engine led my Josh Nicols and Matthew Thomas. The venue is a small 99 seat theatre but most of the shows had a great crowd and an enthusiastic audience. The fest offered improvisors hotel deals and great workshops from some top instructors out in the West like Jason Pardo (King Ten/iO/Annoyance), Brian O’ Connell (iO/Dr. God) and Luis Cortez and Drew Coolidge (Ranger Danger and the Danger Ranger).

Something that was really fun this year was in the gift bags, the OC organizers made each team their own Wine label which was pretty cool (See below). It’s the small things people. And you could of course count on the parties every night for improvisors. After the show they had a second space right behind the theater with a keg of Negro Modelo. Yum!

I really enjoyed the camaraderie and welcoming nature of the Orange County improv scene. Everyone was excellent and took care of the improvisors. The highlight of the evening came as the OC Improv Festival offered Camp Improv Utopia campers (Former and Future) the chance to do an improv jam. With about 20 people we did a big group montage that was fun, but the big moment came at the end when we were taking a group picture and the post show music started playing “Proud to be an American” in true improv fashion everyone, including the audience, started singing it. It was a fun moment and a great way to close the fest.

This year only brought out teams mostly from the West. I’d hope by year three we see more teams coming from all over the country as the festival grows.


Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for adults in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network and performer and teacher at iO West. He has also taught workshops around the country. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! To e-mail nick e-mail nick@nationalimprovnetwork.com. For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

A Mile High Achievement! A Review of The Denver Improv Festival

1086732_1383861295183501_1580790716_nDenver is named The Mile High City because its official elevation is exactly one mile or 5,280 feet (1,609.3 m) above sea level. And living a mile above sea level is a growing improv scene and bringing them together is The Denver Improv Festival run by the non-profit organization Group Mind Foundation. The Festival took place over one weekend in three venues The Voodoo Comedy Playhouse, Impulse Theater with workshops held at The Bovine Metropolis. The Festival Headliners were Convoy out of UCBLA, Switch Committee hailing from Chicago and MegaPowers from Los Angeles. The festival was pretty much sold out the entire time with audiences of 150 or more. It was a great and welcoming audience too! Each night ended with a party too for the public and improvisors. The one night found improvisors belting out Karaoke tunes at the Voodoo which was amazing.

One of the biggest differences I saw this year was DIF getting more sponsors. This was a goal of theirs and they made good. You never know how until you ask. And it seemed this year they were hugely successful getting donations monetarily and product-wise. Improv is a growing art in any community and festivals often times bring attention to the art form. It’s great to see that the Denver business community came together to help DIF happen this year. Also as a side note in the “Only in Denver” category a dispensary was also a sponsor. Ah Denver!

20-1up-arcade-bar-denverBeyond the parties DIF offered improvisors many great perks: Great hotel deals in an expensive hotel city, free beers and drink specials for performers and a pretty hefty gift bag filled with munchies. They really made improvisors feel welcomed. And one of the outside highlights of the festival is my annual trip to 1Up Barcade. It’s an arcade bar that houses games like Ninja Turtles four player edition, Track and Field and The Simpsons. A great place to bond with your fellow improvisors.

 

So if you enjoy community, a fun city with a great barcade and a welcoming group of improvisors I highly recommend you check out the ever growing Denver Improv Festival. Good time, great city!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is the Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups held in California and Pennsylvania every year. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want!

 

 

Red Rocks Improv Festival Combines Improv and The Great Outdoors!

547231_611653305522623_1019168721_nI just got back from Cedar City, Utah and I have to say I’m impressed! Off The Cuff Improvisation, which will be celebrating its 10th year in the small city, put on the 4th Annual Red Rocks Improv Festival. The festival was filled with improv performances from all over the country, workshops and wonderful trips to Cedar Breaks and Zion National Park where improvisors had the chance to hike and bond!

Tj and Wendy Penrod are the force behind the festival and OTC Comedy and have been since its inception. This year Red Rocks decided to partner with NIN and use our submission service to help gain some more exposure for the festival and it worked! Gaining improvisors from California all the way to New York! Tj and Wendy have created an amazing improv community in Cedar City and are actively involved in the arts culture there.

Being such a small town with one main street…named Main Street, I had worried that it might be hard to get a crowd. Not here! Wendy, TJ and their OTC gang have done such great work out there building a community that both nights were filled to the brim with audience. This audience was hungry for improv too!

This years festival added and extra bonus. OTC Comedy rented a 15 seater van, we dubbed the party van, to pick us up and take us hiking to places like Cedar Breaks and Zion National Park. I went on the Zion National Park hike through The Narrows which is not just any trail, it’s a 90 percent water trail where you wade through water in narrow slot canyons! AMAZING! It was a great experience and a great way to meet and hang out with people from other improv communities. When we reached the end of our journey one of the OTC gang started to jump off a rock into a pool of water…everyone followed suit in support, some conquering their fears! It was such an amazing experience filled with community, friendship and fun!

So should you attend this festival? Yes! This is the perfect example of what a festival should be. They took the idea of bringing great shows to their community exposing their small town to big named groups while also taking care of their out-of-town guests and treating them to their beautiful surroundings! Someone asked recently “Why do you go to festivals?” This is why I go to festivals!

Nick Armstrong

Nick is Camp Director and Founder of Improv Utopia an improv retreat for grown ups in California and Pennsylvania. He is also one of the founding members of the National Improv Network. We are always looking for better ways to serve the community. Drop us a line and let us know what you want! For more information visit: http://www.nickarmstrong.com or http://www.improvutopia.com

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